Sunday, September 8, 2019


In my weblog in Italian language I have researched about the so called "Aromanian rebirth", that has happened with the development of nationalism in the Balkans since the XVIII century. Here it is a partial translation in English language of this research, titled in Italian "La rinascita degli Aromuni fino alla Grande Guerra" ('The rebirth of the Aromanians until WW1'). If interested read the original here:

Map showing the territorial requests, at the 1919 Peace Conderence of Paris, for the creation of an Aromanian state in the Pindus region of northern Greece

The following text is based on a research by N.S. Tanasoca (a well-known Romanian writer) on the historical story of the Aromanians in the Balkans. I want to clarify from the outset that this translation in Italian comes to be the opinion - in some way partialized - of many writers and historians of Romania and that it does not coincide with the opinion of other writers, especially Greeks and Bulgarians.

Furthermore, I personally believe that - to save something of the aromanian presence in the southern Balkans, after the failure of the two attempts to create an aromanian State (one supported by France & Italy in the first world war and the other by Italy in the second) - all that remains is to renounce to the idea of ​​an aromanian nation and to accept the Romania's support in creating a small Balkan area -with limited autonomy, inside other nations- with a "Romanian" dialect. In short, a kind of "reserve" of Aromanians, as it exists for Indians in the USA.

Only in this way could be prevented in the next few decades the total assimilation of the remaining aromanian areas in the Pindus, saving one of their substantial communities within a 'United Europe' (given that the aromanian presence -although official- in Albania and Macedonia is 'minimal and irrelevant').

Under the impact of historical circumstances, the Aromanians did not experience the phase of the full rebirth of small European nations in the 19th century and did not, therefore, become a standard ethnic group. However there was a kind of rebirth, but full of problems.

As Nicolae Tanasoca pinpointed, starting during the second half of the Eighteenth Century, a considerable number of Aromanians emigrated from the Balkan Peninsula because of certain economic concerns and political needs in an attempt to preserve their nationality. One can cite, in particular, the founding of some important settlements by Aromanian merchants, most of whom were born in Epirus and who were forced, as the result of Ottoman persecutions at the end of the Eighteenth Century, to settle in the Habsburg Empire (Austria, Hungary, and Transylvania). Then, after the First World War, came the efforts on the part of the Romanian government to colonize Dobrudja (at the mouth of the Danube river) with a few thousand Aromanian families. In addition to the latter, some compact Megleno-Romanian groups also settled on Romanian territory and preserved both their ethnic features and their language.

The settling of Aromanians in the Habsburg Empire is linked to the so called 'first Aromanian national renaissance'. Continuing a cultural direction undertaken as early as their presence in the Balkan Peninsula within the flourishing urban center of Moscopolis (that was destroyed by the Ottoman Ali Pasha of Yanina), those Aromanians who had emigrated to Central European cities came into contact with Habsburg Empire Romanians (chiefly Transylvanian Romanians ). Here, in the effervescent atmosphere of the 'Enlightenment', they developed a movement of cultural assertion in their own language which they tried to promote by writing grammars, primers, and even histories of their people. Focusing on the Romanity of Aromanians and even on recovered Romanity, this movement triggered the response of the Greek-Orthodox clergy grouped around the Oecumenical Patriarchate. They viewed the possible Aromanian departure from the cultural boundaries of a Hellenism that they had supported both intellectually and materially, as being akin to religious apostasy.

The 'second Aromanian national renaissance' began to take shape in the second half of the nineteenth century through the efforts of mid-century revolutionaries, also known in Romania as the Forty-Eighters. These revolutionaries, in their national aspirations to bring together all Romanians into one national state and to creatively assert the cultural identity of the Romanian people in its own language, did not want to exclude the Balkan Romanians.

Stages of the “Aromanian Issue” in the Development of Balkan Policy

Tanasoca also wrote that many pages of Balkanology have been devoted to the so-called national rebirth of the Aromanians in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Generally speaking, both Romanian and foreign researchers claim that this Aromanian national rebirth, identifiable at the level of both written culture and institutional life, was the result of an initiative taken by Romanian Forty-Eighters. These persons, owing to the mediation by outstandingémigrés in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution, Christian Tell, Nicolae lcescu, Ion Ghica, Ion Ionescu de la Brad made contact with the Aromanians who lived in the Ottoman Empire. As a result, they experienced intensely the rediscovery of many distant “brothers” and decided to fulfil, as soon as possible, the ideal of reinserting them into the mass of a culturally and politically reborn Romanianism.

The schools were later followed by a similar network of churches in which religious services were conducted in Romanian. These actions marked the beginning of a Balkan Romanian policy intended to strengthen a status of cultural autonomy and to provide protection to the Aromanians by the Romanian State. Carried out with tenacity and diplomatic skill in the changing and often unstable circumstances of political life in the Balkan Peninsula, this action proved successful and remained a constant direction of Romanian foreign policy until 1945.

In terms of both political practice and the writing of history, the Aromanian issue was also a source of high-pitched confrontations and controversies between Romanians and other Balkan inhabitants. Romanian historians and statesmen considered the Aromanians to be “brothers” – or “first cousins”, in the words of René Pinon (1908) at the beginning of the Twentieth Century – of the Daco-Romanians, openly considering them Balkan Romanians or even Romanians who had emigrated, over the centuries, from ancient Dacia to the South. While these Romanians supported their distant relatives according to what they deemed to be a moral duty and a national political imperative, non-Romanian Balkan historians and statesmen claimed, with very few exceptions, that the Aromanians were not Romanians and that the intervention of Romania in their favour was a form of cultural imperialism, an act the hidden agenda of which was an attempt at political and territorial expansion and annexation.

Having reached the peak of its influence during the Balkan Wars, the Aromanian policy of Romania underwent a decline as further wars determined the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the strengthening of Balkan national states. Thenetwork of Romanian schools and churches shrunk quite considerably and was only tolerated in Greece, owing to certain special circumstances.

The Second World War and the changes it brought about in the social and political structures of Southeastern Europe simply did away with the Aromanian issue and sealed the fate of Aromanians under the guise of a gradual, but increasing, de-Romanianization. Today, the “Aromanian issue” is no longer a political reality, but rather a topic of great interest for objective research that has so far been insufficiently developed.

The “Aromanian Issue” between 1879 and the First World War

Between 1879 and 1919 the Aromanian national rebirth reached its peak.

The year 1879 witnessed the founding of the Bucharest Society for Macedo-Romanian Culture. Chaired by Calinic Miclescu, the Primate of Romania, and having Vasile Alexandrescu Urechia as its secretary, the institution was led by a Council made up of thirty-five personalities. These included Dimitrie and Ion Ghica, Dumitru Brătianu, C. A. Rosetti, Ion Câmpineanu, Gh. Chiţt, Nicolae Ionescu, Christian Tell, Menelas Ghermani, Dr. Ioan Kalinderu, D. A. Sturdza, Titu Maiorescu, Vasile Alecsandri, and Ioan Caragiani. As it had a legal status, the Society represented the genuine core of the Aromanian rebirth movement. Although the Society was not a government body, it had highly unusual responsibilities, such as the right to issue documents attesting civil status, including certificates of nationality intended to assist Aromanians in obtaining Romanian citizenship with comparatively reduced bureaucratic efforts.

Since it was a representative structure for the Aromanians, the Society also guided and coordinated their education in the Romanian language. Its initial objectives were to establish a Romanian bishopric for Aromanians and a boarding school for young people who were studying in Turkey, to raise funds and to subsidize the publication of Aromanian journals and books, and to support the Church. Beginning in 1880, the Society issued an Aromanian journal called Brotherhood for Justice, but it could only continue this effort for one year. Still, in 1880, it published a Macedo-Romanian album with 173 Romanian and foreign contributions to the cause.

The fact that the Society for Macedo-Romanian Culture was founded in 1879 was not purely coincidental. Immediately after gaining full state independence in 1878, Romania had the opportunity to freely develop a foreign policy of its own and used this Society to express its legitimate claim to play a part in the Balkans. However, this claim never implied territorial annexations, only the strengthening of Aromanian cultural autonomy. The Society functioned until 1948.

On the eve of the Balkan Wars, there were over 100 Romanian primary schools in the Ottoman Empire, as well as several secondary schools, including a high school in Bitola and a trade school in Salonika. Although these schools all required their students to pay tuition fees, they were subsidized by the Romanian government. The Aromanian schools outside Romania were placed under the direct authority of the Romanian State that appointed all the teachers. They were also subordinated to a General Inspectorate.

For several decades, this Inspectorate was headed by Apostol Margarit. With the help of the French priest Jean Claude Faveryal, he supervised the birth of many Romanian schools for the Vlach population of the Ottoman Empire. Apostol Margarit dedicated many works to the Aromenian question - Raport despre persecuŃiile şcoalelor române în Macedonia din partea Grecilor in 1875; Réfutation d'une brochure grecque par un Valaque épirote in 1878, Etudes historiques sur les Valaques du Pinde in 1881, Les Grecs, les Valaques, les Albanais et l'Empire turc par un Valaque du Pinde in 1886; La politique grecque en Turquie in 1890; Memoriu privitor la şcoalele de peste Balcani in 1887.

The Romanian schools in the Ottoman Empire were highly successful. They produced generations of graduates, many of whom later chose to settle in Romania. Yet, the main problem for these schools was that of persuading Aromanians to remain in their native environments. This goal could not be accomplished. Indeed the other Balkan nationalities displayed an open hostility to the Romanian education system, for they were competing for the Ottoman legacy even before the formal collapse of the Empire, ready to partition it as best they could. The support of Romanianism could be interpreted as engaging in open combat against all the Christian nationalities in Macedonia.

As for church organization, its progress did not match the positive evolution of the education system. Although on 16 June 1889, the Patriarchate finally permitted the use of the Romanian language in churches built by Aromanians, its attitude, in principle, remained aloof, if not hostile, either openly or through well-hidden manoeuvres. On 27 June 1891, a Sultan’s "irade" (decree) was promulgated, authorizing the use of the Romanian language in Aromanian churches and the use of Romanian books during religious services. Despite all efforts and in spite of an attempt, in 1896, to elect Antim, who was known to support the Aromanian cause, as the Ohrid metropolitan bishop, there were no possibilities of establishing an Aromanian bishopric able to free the Aromanians from the authority of the Greek church and to support their unhindered development.

Catholic propaganda, conducted mainly by a Lazarist named Faveyral of Bitola, was strongly directed toward the conversion of the Aromanians. Apostol Margarit was linked to certain attempts to bring about a religious union with Rome. But the Aromanian community was too attached to the Orthodox tradition to make such a shift. This tradition was a critical element in its national consciousness.

For some years a church in Voskopojë was managed by the Aromanian priest Cosma Demetresescu even after he was closed in a monastery, in 1891. In the same year another decree allowed Aromanians to use their language not only in the religious functions but also in the ritual books. The first years of XX century continued to stage violent attacks on Aromanian clergymen and notables, while romanian diplomacy increased its efforts to obtain from the Sultan privileges as the creation of an indipendent patriarchate. In 1903 Aromanians were among the victims and at the same time the partecipants of the Ilinden insurrection (in the Soviet of Krushova republic there were around 20 Aromanians and later, in the reform commission apponted by the Turks there was the Romanian Pandele Maşu). In 1903 an Aromanian cemetery was set in Monastir while in 1904 a Romanian consulate was opened at Yanyna.

The sympathies showed towards the Sultan were soon repaid and in 1905 sultan Abdul Hamid issued a decree ("irade") to grant Aromanians all the rights of a millet with the exception of a religious head, creating in this way the "Ullah millet". The irade of 22th May 1905 granted to the Vlachs the use of their language in religious matters and the freedom of electing mayors (muhtar). But it caused many angry protests among Greek ecclesiastical authorities, starting from the patriarch Joachim. Besides the opposition of the Greek priests, the irade caused the violent reaction of the bands born to fight the Bulgarian "komitadji". The repression of Aromanian rights included the killing of clergymen, the denial of the Sacraments and violent attacks against the attendants of Aromanian schools

According to Italian military sources, violence continued to mark the inter-ethnic relationships in the Balkans, as denounced by the Romanian press which continued to invoke drastic measures against the discriminatory and violent treatment of the Aromanians by bands of Greeks (and also of Bulgarians and Albanians, but in a minor scale). "Aromanul" (13th November 1913) protested against the assassination of some Romanian activists (Dem. Zicu of Petrici and Mitra Arghieri of Şatra), "Viitorul" (Rominii maeedoneni, 20th December 1913) and "Fulgerul" (Exterminarea Aromanilor, 20th January 1914) against the risk Aromanians could disappear; “Dreptatea" (Romanii albanezi şi asasinarea preotului Balamace, 26th March 1914) and “Adevarul" (Un mitropolit bandit, 29th March 1914) talked abut the fury caused by the murder of the Romanian bishop Haralambie Balamace and accused the Greek metropolit Ghermanos. Finally other protests were caused by the Greek response given by Venizelos, who accused the Albanians of having comitted the massacres of the Aromanians in Coritza (Guvernul şi masacrele din Corita, in “Adevarul", 30th March 1914; Incorigibilii, in “Mişcarea", 3rd April 1914).

Happily satisfied by the recognition of both their ethnic individuality and their cultural and administrative rights, the Aromanians after only 8 years were dealt a harsh blow in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars. The August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest sealed the establishment of national states in the European territories of the Ottoman Empire and divided the Aromanians among these states. Their cohesion was thus shattered, and they were left at the mercy of various national governments that had made no formal commitment to respect Aromanian ethnic autonomy and national rights.

During the first years of WW1, when Greece was divided between Ententists and supporters of the Central Powers, the Pindus Aromanians began an insurrectional movement with Italian support in order to establish, in the Pindus region, an Aromanian political body, completely independent of Greece. Supported by the Society for Macedo-Romanian Culture and by certain Romanian personalities, this movement was exploited by other political actors to obtain recognition of Romanian claims to the whole region of Banat.

But later, represented at Versailles by a delegation led by George Murnu, the Aromanians found themselves in a no-win situation. The Utopian intention to establish an Aromanian or an Aromanian-Albanian state was invalidated by Balkan and general realities. The geographical characteristics of the area concerned failed to provide for economic self-sufficiency. The Aromanians were overly dispersed throughout this area and were surrounded by more numerous neighbours who opposed the whole idea. Finally, there was a lack of consensus among Pindus Aromanians in favour of such an arrangement. The frailty of the dream of a Romanian-Albanian state could be observed in the treatment that Albania meted out to its Romanian minority. The Albanian state did its best to do away with all educational and religious activities carried out by the Aromanians and quickly took the next logical step, that of questioning the very existence of Aromanians on its territory.

The French and Italian intervention

In 1914, in the aftermath of Balkan wars, an Autonomous Republic of Epirus was formed around Gjirokastër. It was led by a distinguished local Greek politician, Georgios Christakis-Zogràfos, who referring to the Megàli idèa gave birth to an autonomous administration, put under formal Albanian sovereignty and recognized also by the Great Powers with the Protocol of Corfu. The experiment took also to the creation of an autocephale church whose chiefs soon reconciled with Athens. The end of the principate was then followed by a period of Greek administration and, after the division between royalists and Venizelos’ supporters had thrown Greece into an unstable position, by the arrival of French and Italian troops at Korcë and Gjirokastër.

The two provinces of Korytsa and Argyrokastro were inhabitated by a melting pot of creeds and populations and included also some Vlachs. During the Epirus autonomy, the Greek administration viewed all Albanian Aromanians as part of the Greek minority without taking into account their different nationality. The region later fell under the control of the Bulgarians, who tried to join Austrian allies, before being stopped by French intervention. Also some groups of rebels were active in the region of Korçë, one was led by Themistokli Gërmenji and another by Sali Butka. The latter, sacked completely the Aromanian Moscopole and threatened with the same perspective Korçë.

When the city of Koritza came under French control, the French tried to get a compromise and an "Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë" was established with a council made up of seven Christians (someone Aromanian) and seven Muslims and with Themistokli Gërmenji as prefect of police. The new authorities introduced Albanian as the official language and replaced Greek schools with Albanian ones, which had been forbidden during the Greek administration of the city.

Italy reacted against this French policy aimed at influencing Albanian affairs and, as Italian armies were also present in many parts of Albania - the port of Vlorë and the southern region of the Albanian principality- proclaimed Albanian indipendence and tried to counter-balance French dominion.

In 1917, when Italian troops advanced into Albania they were welcomed in all Aromenian villages, for example in Ciamuria and Samarina. A National council for Pindus was created and it took a very pro-Italian attitude. They later founded, with the help of some local representative as Alkiviadis Diamantis, the "Principate of Pindos" in the area of Aromanian settlement. Italy undertook attempts to convert the proRomanian Aromanians into pro-Italian one, taking advantage of the historical and language relations these communities had with Italian latinity. In this particular context, Italian military forces felt the need to improve the ethnic and political conditions of the Aromanians, and sketched some documents on their history and customs. Their villages could be distinguished for the solidity and a certain elegance and were often placed in positions of military interest, next to the mountains and road junctions. The Aromanians were described as calm, wealthy, occupied in trade or sheep-breeding, resistant to any persecution or massacre, even though the denaturalization policies pursued by the Greeks, as reported by colonel Casoldi on 29th May 1917 in his account 'Note circa la questione valacca'.

The Aromanian presence was particularly evident in two districts, Grammos – expecially in the city and around Koritza - and Pindus, where 36 villages were clearly detachable. Even if they were not as populous as the old Moscopole, these settlements mantained their ethnic identity. The language, instead, was in some case abandoned, also as a consequence of the Greek propaganda, pressures and abuses. Aromanians even arrived at creating national armed bands against those sent by Greeks to terrorize the region and this resistance was considered almost incredible by Italians, due to the peaceful and calm traditions of the Aromanians. It was also noted that many Aromanians enlisted in the Romanian army staying in Moldova asked to be sent back to the Balkans to fight for the security of their lands.

Trying to conquer the sympathies of those communities, the Italians thought that the strategy to follow was that of sponsoring the birth and increase of local authorities in order to prepare for the peace negotiations a fertile ground for the establishments of cantons or political and administrative autonomy. These hopes were increased also by the demands of Aromanian communities, who after the years of the Greek-Romanian dispute and the troubles of war searched in the kingdom of Italy a stronger protector.

Pindus Aromanian villages which signed a letter sent from Samarina and Metzovo to US President Wilson, Italian authorities and Romanian Prime Minister I. C. Brătianu asking "autonomy" on the 27th July 1917: 1)Samarina (Samarina-Σαμαρίνα);2)Abella (Avdella - Αβδέλλα Γρεβενών);3)Perivole (Περιβόλι Γρεβενών);4)Baïassa (Βοβούσα Ιωαννίνων);5)Amintchou (Metzova - Μέτσοβο);6)Paléosseli (Παλαιοσέλλι Ιωαννίνων);7)Padzes (Πάδες Ιωαννίνων);8)Tourïa (Κρανέα Γρεβενών);9)Breazna (Δίστρατο Ιωαννίνων);10)Laca (Λαΐστα Ιωαννίνων);11)Dobrinova (Ηλιοχώρι Ιωαννίνων);12)Armata (Άρματα Ιωαννίνων);13)Zmixi (Σμίξη Γρεβενών)
On 27th July 1917 the Italian commander in Valona, General Giacinto Ferrero, received a telegram coming from the mayors of many Aromanian villages who met in Metzovo, representing the Pindus-Zagori people.

“Figli non degeneri di Roma sempre memori della madre nostra antica e tenaci custodi della lingua e delle tradizioni dei nostri padri dopo lunghi secoli di lotta sanguinosa contro la straniero che tentava tutti i modi di cancellare nostro carattere nazionale latino respiriamo finalmente le pure aure della libertà che le nuove legioni di roma vittoriose agli ordini vostri hanno apportato ai loro fratelli di sangue dispersi lontani sul Pindo e Zagori” ('Non-degenerate children of Rome always mindful of our ancient mother and tenacious guardians of the language and traditions of our fathers after long centuries of bloody struggle against the foreigner who tried always to cancel our national Latin character, we finally breathe the pure auras of freedom that the new legions of Rome victorious on your orders have contributed to their scattered blood brothers on the Pindus and Zagori')

Besides the enthusiastic recalling of ancient Roman roots, in this appeal the Aromanians underlined the security given to them by the Italian troops; their leaving would mean falling easily prey of the enemies who looked forward to the extermination of Aromanians. The latter invoked Italy and her powerful and careful protection, the only means of defence against the superiority of the enemies. Finally, the signataries self-appointed themselves the 'sons of Rome', who throughout millenary events had kept intact and preserved the remembrance of the Roman civilization in the valleys and the mountains of Pindus. Even if in a shorter form, the same declarations were included in the comunication sent the same day to the President of the United states, to the president of the Provisory Russian Government, to the Romanian Prime Minister I. C. Brătianu, to the Belgian Foreign Affairs minister, to the French, English and Russian consuls in Yanina, to General Ricciotti Garibaldi in Rome and to the mayor of Rome.

In late 1918 a "memorandum" of the Aromanian people was sent to the 'Peace Conference in Paris' through the volume "Les Macedo-Roumains (Koutzo-Valaques) devant le Congrè de la Paix" redacted by the National Council of the Pindus Roumanians and signed by G.Munru, Nicolae Tacit, Arghir Culina, T. Papahagi. Besides the historical connection, the Aromanians recalled their will of joining the Roman Catholic Church repairing “le plus grave erreur historique” (their biggest historical mistake) and restablishing the relationships that Kalojan Asan had with the Pope, which proved the never-ending Latin character of the Aromanian people Italy was the natural benchmark of the Aromanians and her prestige deriving from the victory of the war increased her power and attraction towards the Aromanians, who kept on invoking Italian protection for the safeguard of their Latin culture. At Delvino, on 28th December 1918 and 10th January 1919, a special Assembly was convoked. The meeting defined a precise political project: the autonomy of Pindus and Zagori united with Albania and under the protection of Italy and pointed out a strategy to avoid any other undesired solution.

But the Paris Peace conference was not favorable to the Aromanians.

After 1919

The years, 1919-1948, represented a period of stagnation and decline in the evolution of the Aromanian issue. The Turkish-Greek War that ended with the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 entailed the resettlement in Greek Macedonia of over one million Greeks from Asia Minor. This act was a truly finishing stroke for Aromanians in Greece.

Aromanian shepherding was destroyed by the parcelling of the large pastures so that all the newcomers could receive a piece of land. The latter were protected in the practice of the liberal professions and in trade through a process perceived as a threat by Aromanians who suddenly faced competition. The situation being what it was, those Aromanians who were still keen on their Romanity decided to emigrate to Romania. With the support of the Romanian State, the Dobrudja Quadrilateral was settled by several thousand Aromanians who were then forced to move into Romanian Dobrudja, when the Quadrilateral was retroceded to Bulgaria, in 1940. To this systematic movement of people, must be added the more gradual emigration of all the Salonika and Grebena secondary school aromanian graduates to Romania during the 1920s and 1930s.

The last intervention of Italy happened during WW2, when the Aromanian leader Alkibiades Diamantis created -under Italian control- the "Principate of Pindus" with the support of one thousand Aromanian volunteers of his 'Roman Legion', but the Axis defeat in this war left a complete destruction of the aromanian rebirth as a possible small State. Alkibiades Diamandis and his Aromanian troops of the 'Roman Legion' in 1941